One of the aspects of Bauhaus that makes it most relevant to the 21st Century has to be the movement’s obsession with technology. From the experiments of László Moholy-Nahy, to embracing industrial processes in their workshops in order to make products for the masses, Bauhaus artists, unlike their contemporary Expressionists who feared the relationship between man and the machine, were always innovating and seeing how they could use burgeoning technology to create a new utopian world. However, the advancements that were cutting edge in the ‘20s evidently seem pretty basic in 2019. The digital science we have at our fingertips today opens up a wide variety of creative possibilities, which would have allowed the original Bauhaus creators to bring to life some of their ideas which seemed un-realisable at the turn of the century. It is in this spirit that we are brought Das Totale Tanz Theater as part of Berlin’s Bauhaus Centenary Opening Festival.
Running for the duration of the festival at Akademie der Künste, Das Totale Tanz Theatre is “a virtual reality experience for man and machine.” Based on Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius’ dream of creating a “total theatre” – a never-ending space breaking down the barrier between performer and audience – this VR experiment plunges you in to an industrial, futuristic world, which is populated by automaton-like dancers, adorned in geometric costumes based on the stage experiments of Bauhaus choreographer Oskar Schlemmer.
As soon as you put on your head-set and are handed your controller, you are introduced to your own personal dance guide, whose costume you can adjust before you begin exploring the endless possibilities of this VR utopia. The environment feels slightly reminiscent of a Berlin club venue – and Kraftwerk in particular – with grated metal floors, stark concrete walls and a high ceiling that goes on into infinity. You are lifted off the floor and raised up 300 metres into the (virtual) air – this experience is not one for acrophobic! – to the first level, where you meet other faceless performers who leap, kick and turn with ease in front of you, the angular shapes that orbit them as part of their costumes morphing as they move.
After this first, simple introductory stage, your controller then vibrates, informing you that is now possible to navigate the space yourself, allowing you to move closer or further away to get different perspectives – and maybe even have the performers kick you in the face! Your position in the final scene of the immersive performance is perhaps the most interesting, as you are suspended on a small metal square hundreds of metres in the air – don’t look down… or do if you want a thrill – slightly below the dancers, so that they are gliding above your head in a mind-boggling, majestic manner.
Whilst this interactive experience is extremely innovative and exciting to explore, the 360 VR dance film version – available for people to watch if they’re not lucky enough to get a slot for the full interactive version – arguably better showcases the actual choreography created by Richard Siegal. Whilst it doesn’t fulfil Walter Gropius’ vision as completely as the immersive experience, in the 360 film, you remain seated and unhindered by the compulsion to go off on your own tangent, instead presented various scenes of imposing phalanxes of dancers, performing quirky unison choreography to electronic music specially composed by Lorenzo Bianchi-Hoesch.
Situated at the heart of the installation LICHT.SCHATTERN.SPUREN (LIGHT.SHADOWS.TRACES), also put on as part of the Bauhaus centenary, it is in fact quite hard to find your way to the Das Totale Tanz Theater performance – I actually got confused and thought the 360 film was the whole event, almost missing my coveted time slot for the interactive experience! However, despite this air of confusion, the dance installation’s location amidst other experimental artefacts – such as psychedelic wall projections of Kandinsky and Schlemmer inspired imagery, and Berlin-based collective Quadrature’s unique moving art piece that responds to impulses in outer space – does allow you to continue to explore contemporary takes on Bauhaus principles, even after you’ve taken off your goggles and left the enticing realms of virtual reality.